[EM] Does IRV elect "majority winners?"

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Tue Dec 30 21:45:31 PST 2008

At 06:59 PM 12/30/2008, Terry Bouricius wrote:
>I take offense at Abd repeatedly suggesting I am a liar or am engaging in
>deception. We have a legitimate difference of opinion about the
>appropriate use of the term "majority" and interpretation of RRONR.

I have generally been very reluctant to use the term "liar." It 
implies deliberate deception. However, it is possible to "engage in 
deception" that is not deliberate. There is no clear dividing line 
between lying and reckless disregard of the truth.

There is no legitimate difference of opinion here, as far as I can 
see. The term "majority" is well-defined as used by Robert's Rules of 
Order; the term can be used with finer specification, but using it 
that way, implying the general meaning, *without making the 
specification* is deceptive, and continuing to do it after having 
been reasonably notified of this is ... lying.

How did you do at the target practice today?

Well, the majority of my arrows hit the central half of the target.

That's great! So it wasn't like last week, where you mostly missed 
the target entirely?

No, actually, I did about the same as last week.

How can that be?

Well, arrows that miss the target are useless, so I didn't count them.

So the majority of your arrows missed the target?

No, I told you, the majority of my arrows hit the central half of the target.

"The winner will still be required to get a majority of the votes" 
has a clear implication. The existing law required that.

What "interpretation" of Roberts' Rules of Order is Bouricius 
claiming that we "legitimately" differ on? The meaning of "blanks and 
abstentions" is clear, and a ballot with a vote on it is neither. 
Bouricius has made up an entire line of approach, then claims it is 
merely an alternate "interpretation" of Robert's Rules.

This isn't about whether or not we *should* elect the last round 
winner in IRV. The only question that has been the subject of 
contention here, and around which I'm coming to deeply suspect 
Bouricius' motives, is whether or not we can legitimately call that a 
"majority" without qualifying the term, where it is not only 
reasonably possible but actually likely that we will be misunderstood.

Misunderstood in way that, if we advocate IRV as Bouricius does, will 
favor our cause. This is political spin of the worst kind, because it 
is directly deceptive.

>At the outset, we might all agree that no system can really assure a
>_true_ "majority winner" in an ultimate sense, since there may be a tie,
>or there may simply be no candidate running who a majority of voters can

Actually, there is a system which assures a true majority winner -- 
or there is no winner. Bouricius knows what it is, because it applies 
to all, I believe, legislative actions, and he was a legislator. You 
keep voting until you find a majority. Top two runoff is merely one 
step from plurality toward a majority-guaranteed system.

You know what would happen in the legislature, electing the Speaker, 
if there were "no candidate running [whom] a majority of voters -- 
i.e., legislators -- can abide." There would be no election until 
they got it together to find a majority.

So, sure, TTR can't truly assure a majority -- though when the 
candidates are restricted to two, then the only exception to a 
majority would be a tie.

I agree, that restriction is a compromise, one which I actually think 
worse than the disease it purports to cure: majority failure. It 
would be better to allow, at least, write-in votes, and to then, 
tolerate the possibility of an election by plurality. If the 
preceding process has been good enough, that's not likely to be a bad outcome.

>  The core of my argument is that if the winner of a traditional
>two-round runoff system (without write-ins) is appropriately called a
>"majority winner," so can the winner of an instant runoff election.

Yes. That's your argument, and it is totally corrupt. There is no 
possibility of mistake in the meaning with TTR. With top-two runoff, 
the winner has actually received -- excepting a tie -- the "majority" 
of the votes cast in the election. The runoff is the election. When 
Mr. Bouricius was in the legislature, and some matter came up for 
vote, and it failed to pass, but then it was reconsidered, and 
passed, did the votes in the first consideration count? Indeed, under 
Robert's Rules of Order, if the desirable repeated balloting is 
carried out, are the votes in all the unsuccessful elections 
preceding the final one relevant to what is a majority in the last one?

I agree, there is a problem with no write-ins, because the voters 
have been constrained, *but this has nothing to do with whether or 
not the winner gained a majority,* except that, of course, if there 
are only two candidates who are eligible to receive votes, then there 
is either a tie or one candidate gets a majority of the votes. We 
don't even say, with a two-candidate election, that a candidate must 
gain a majority, if that were all that were involved. The majority 
*requirement* in TTR is in the primary, not in the runoff.

Voters who voted in the primary *may* vote again in the runoff. These 
are two separate elections.

TTR is a method designed to strongly encourage a majority, a 
legitimate majority. When write-ins are prohibited, it falls a little 
short, but that's a detail. No jurisdiction implements TTR that does 
not desire to see a majority of voters supporting a winner on the 
ballot that actually elects. When you tell these people that IRV 
"will still require the winner to gain a majority," but that runoffs 
will be "eliminated," you are directly and clearly and unequivocably 
deceiving them.

You can argue that IRV is better than TTR. You can argue that runoffs 
are expensive. You can argue that low turnout in runoff elections is 
a Bad Thing. None of that would be lying, though some of it might 
still, in the end be deceptive -- it would be the kind of deception 
that can exist in "legitimate disagreement."

But this is not that. It's a very clear, very simple, abuse of 
language for political purpose, and the wont of politicians to do 
this kind of thing is what gives them such a bad reputation.

Shame on you, Terrill.

>The term "majority" simply means more than half, and it is regularly
>applied to different denominators...a "majority" of the entire membership,
>"majority" of those present and voting, "majority" in the second round of
>a runoff system,

"Majority of the votes," or "a vote from the majority of ballots" is 
awfully clear, and not at all what you are trying to apply. 
Absolutely, you can *specify* the basis. The same can be used with 
the word "all."

The winner will be required to get all the votes.

"All" here means the same as the "all" in "All of the votes for the winner."

The majority of the votes for the top two in a Plurality election 
will go to the winner.

No problem!

The majority of the votes in the last round of an IRV election will 
be for the winner.

That statement is not a lie, it's a simple truth, but it starts to be 
the kind of truth that can still mislead. Does the reader realize 
that this "majority" does not consider all the votes on exhausted ballots?

But when you say, "The winner will still be required to get a 
majority of the votes," or other quite clear language that a 
reasonable person would interpret as meaning "majority of the ballots 
cast in the election," not just the "majority of ballots after 
exclusion of those without a vote for one of the top two," then it 
becomes directly deceptive, and you have only fooled yourself into 
thinking it's justified by playing with the meanings of "majority," 
"abstention," etc.

Not fully ranking may indeed be "like" abstaining, in some ways, but 
analogies are not equalities, and if it takes an analogy like this to 
make a statement true, then the statement is more reasonably *false*.

(The claim wasn't made that the winner would be "required to gain 
something like a majority of the votes," there wasn't any indication 
that this was an analogy, it was an absolute and very clear claim. 
And very false.)

(Now, in the Santa Clara case, it's actually possible that the method 
being proposed there -- it wasn't described in detail -- would indeed 
continue to require a majority. But, then, it could not guarantee 
this in one ballot, which was also claimed, so there is no way to 
interpret it to reconcile all this.)

>  etc. In governmental elections we generally use the
>short-hand "majority" without specifying all of the exclusions from the

That's correct. Bouricius, you really are a politician.

There are indeed exclusions, and they differ from situation to 
situation, but this doesn't change the fact that there is also such a 
thing as clear meaning that isn't denied by the existence of some 
fuzziness. To the jurisdictions you are selling IRV, almost entirely, 
"majority" has a very clear meaning, and by making the claims you 
make, you are deceiving those people, you cannot excuse this by 
saying that you have a different meaning for the word.

That argument could be used to justify any lie whatever. People deal 
with "majority" of the votes all the time, it has a specific and 
clear meaning. To use a specified meaning *without making the 
specification* is to lie, particularly if the intention is to deceive.

You know that they want to find a true majority. So you promise it to 
them. Politicians are trained to do this, to tell people what the 
people want to hear, to promise that if the voter will only support 
the politician -- or the politician's project -- they will get the 
desirable outcome they want.

People want a majority? Fine. Promise it to them. Cheap, too. Hey, 
how about "Negative campaigning?"

To minor party supporters: this will help you advance your cause.

To major party supporters: end the spoiler effect, no more worry 
about those minor parties.

Some of it, even, might be true. But politicians don't really care, 
they say what they think will be effective. "Majority" sells IRV, 
that's obvious.

The matter became very, very clear to me when I attempted to add the 
"specifications" to the language in the Wikipedia article. It was 
vigorously resisted. "Too confusing." "Too much detail." Never mind 
that it was *accurate,* and *sourced* and all that.

Here, what are you arguing, Terrill? Are you arguing that the 
language on those ballots wasn't deceptive? Are you saying that any 
reasonable voter would have understood that the "majority" involved 
was not the same "majority" as is involved when the code requires the 
winner to gain a majority in the primary, or there will be a runoff?

You are now simultaneously arguing that there isn't any "majority" 
method. So why then, do you think, that FairVote activists promise it?

The fact is that top two runoff is the *closest* we have to a method 
that requires a majority. It is, thus, the closest method we have to 
pure democratic process. Robert's Rules suggests using preferential 
voting, not to replace the majority requirement -- this is where 
FairVote deceived many -- but to make it easier to find a majority.

A real majority. As would be obtained if voters voluntarily rank the 
candidates completely. Nobody has challenged that this is a real 
majority of the votes.

But if we have an IRV election, and the winner gets 40% of the vote, 
with, say, 25% exhausted ballots, it is totally deceptive to say, for 
example, "Voters went to the polls, and a majority of them voted for 
Mr. Forty Percent."

>  Abd is insisting that uniquely for IRV elections, we should
>list the exclusions (i.e.. "a majority of unexhausted ballots," or "a
>majority of those who expressed a preference between the final two
>candidates", etc.).

No, I'm insisting that when we talk about a "majority of ballots" in 
public elections, considering and comparing various methods, we use 
the *same* definition. IRV is, in the subject propositions or 
measures, being proposed as a replacement for top two runoff, and 
there is, in that method, a requirement in the primary for a 
majority; if there is no majority, a runoff is held.

Comes FairVote and promises to do the same thing with one ballot, and 
the claim is made that "the winner will still be required to get a 
majority of the votes." A reasonable person will think that this 
means the same thing as the use of the word majority in the original 
top two runoff election code.

Yes, it is true: when we say the "majority of the ballots," there is, 
in fact, necessary specification to be *precise.* That is, majority 
of the ballots, excluding blank ballots and ballots containing no 
legal vote or otherwise spoiled. Basically, however, *everyone* -- 
without prior knowledge of IRV or an unusual ability to work out the 
details --  will imagine that every ballot with a legal vote on it is 
a ballot that will be considered, and that the winner will "still be 
required to get a vote from more than half of these."

And the method makes it reasonable -- though wrong -- to imagine 
that; especially if people think of the common two-party plus spoiler scenario.

So you are encouraging them to imagine an error. That is, indeed, 
just what spin doctors do, or at least the unethical ones, I'm 
willing to allow the possibility of an ethical spin doctor.

>  It is acceptable to make this detailed explanation,
>but not necessary in normal speech.

That surely is correct. However, when you *radically* change the 
meaning of a word by failing to specify the conditions, you are 
guilty of consumer fraud, should you be selling something, as you are.

Free Service! (for the first day after you drive off the lot)
100% replacement guarantee! (unless the product has been removed from 
its packaging)
Majority of the ballots! (except ballots from kooks and minor party supporters)

>  In a typical U.S. governmental runoff
>election we do not list the exclusions from the denominator when naming a
>majority winner...We do not say "Jane Smith won with a majority, excluding
>those who were eligible but did not register to vote, or registered but
>did not cast a ballot, or cast a ballot but skipped the race, or that
>ballot was blank, or spoiled, or illegal, or contained identifying marks,
>and excluding those who may have participated in the first round of voting
>but not the second." We just say she was the "majority winner."

Because, in fact, she got a majority of the votes. "Votes" simply 
being given the ordinary meaning, which *implies* a voter who 
actually voted, a valid ballot, etc.

>Abd accepts that the winner of a top-two runoff (TTR) system (without
>write-ins) is appropriately called a "majority winner," but not
>necessarily the winner of an instant runoff.

The winner of the primary is a majority winner. I have never said 
that the winner of a runoff is a majority winner, necessarily. 
Usually she will be, though. (Always, if write-ins are not allowed, 
almost always, if they are.)

>  He treats the "majority
>winner" of a two-round runoff as somehow better, or more valid.

No. That's not the argument here, at all. The argument here is that 
the use of "majority" for the winner of an IRV election where the 
candidate didn't get a vote from a majority of the ballots is 
flat-out deceptive. Nothing is said in this about "better," though, 
in fact, top two runoff, in nonpartisan elections, almost certainly 
comes up with better results that IRV.

That extra ballot is not just a stupid waste of time. But this isn't 
the argument here.

>Ironically, it is typical for the winner of an IRV runoff to have won more
>total votes within a given jurisdiction and have a larger majority
>threshold to reach, than a "majority winner" of a two-round runoff, simply
>due to higher voter participation resulting from a single trip to the
>polls (yes, I know this is not an absolute as separate runoffs do on rare
>occasions have higher turnout).

This is a highly deceptive statement which I won't bother to parse at 
this point. It incorporates some possible facts, but also compares 
extremes and incomparables, and neglects important factors that would 
affect the equity of the claim.

>   One essential difference between these
>two "majority winners" is simply the duration of time between the
>beginning and ending of he candidate marking process, in that the IRV
>ballot allows the voter to complete the task in a single visit to the
>polls. (Yes, I know voters also get to have a "second-look," etc. but that
>is irrelevant to the "majority" issue here).

Sure. Irrelevant to the majority issue here, like the rest of the 
nonsense or irrelevancies you are introducing.

Bouricius is now taking the opportunity to introduce some of the 
common arguments for IRV that have been worked out in developing this 
campaign against the most democratically advanced voting method we 
have, runoff voting. However, FairVote has been lying about IRV for 
years, and they have developed a whole series of Fair-sounding 
arguments that are quite well designed to lead the unsuspecting down 
the rosy path.

But once one realizes how deceptive *one* of these arguments is, one 
is quite likely to start to suspect the rest. And one would be right. 
IRV was condemned as an inferior method back in the nineteenth 
century, voting systems experts generally reject it utterly.

Here, we get to see one narrow example, this claim about majority, 
used in campaigns. It's not some pedantic detail. This majority claim 
sells IRV. That Bouricius is so vigorously defending the indefensible 
shows how important it is to him and them.

Bouricius continued making more and more analogies and twisted 
arguments. I lost patience, it increasingly appeared to be word salad 
to me. If anyone thinks any of them are important to review, please ask.

However, in deleting the remainder of Bouricius' post, I noticed this 
at the end:

>The one point on which I long ago agreed with Abd is that if an
>implementation of IRV has imposed restrictions on the number of rankings
>the voter may make (due to inadequate voting technology, for example),
>there is a genuine difference between a two-round runoff "majority" and a
>possible winner of such an imperfect implementation of IRV.

Where we can, and have agreed, is that not allowing full ranking 
totally disrupts the argument that exhausted ballots necessarily mean 
some kind of abstention. The voter may have used all the ranks.

>  I can not go
>back and correct historic claims made by others, but I myself long ago
>stopped saying such imperfect implementations "assured" majority winners.

You cannot go back and correct them, but you *could* note, more 
directly, that they were *wrong*.

Now, if full ranking were allowed, would you then say that majority 
winners were assured? You do know that, unless the context and 
meaning has been made clear, it will be misinterpreted.

True or not, TTR is believed to assure majority winners, and it is 
not being abandoned because it doesn't. There are *ways* in which it 
does, and by making the same claim for IRV you are implying that it 
assures a majority in the same way.

The arguments about numbers of voters in runoffs and all that are 
complex, but that's another matter. Top two runoff, when it produces 
a result with a single ballot, has found a true majority. That's what 
"majority" means. We can extend that to mean that a majority of valid 
ballots contain a vote for the winner. So we could actually find a 
few more votes: if a candidate is ranked on a majority of ballots, a 
majority have supported the winner. Bucklin would find those votes, 
IRV can miss some, concealed under a runner-up.

(In nonpartisan elections, it could be *many* votes. One of the 
causes of majority failure with IRV could be exactly this. But if 
those votes get counted, even if only to find if a majority have 
"approved" of the IRV winner, then LNH failure rises up. I'd say to 
that: "Phooey!" So what!)

(In partisan elections, few votes for the winner would be concealed 
under the runner-up. Partisan elections are also, I suspect, more 
likely to find majorities, and more likely to see "comeback 
elections." IRV probably functions better in a partisan environment. 
But .... FairVote went for the weak spot. Top Two Runoff was mostly 
used in nonpartisan elections, especially municipal elections. They 
could go after the expense and inconvenience. Never mind that these 
aren't the best application, it's the best we can get, they would 
have thought. The *goal was IRV,* not the best election method for 
each situation. Otherwise .... why IRV for Takoma Park?  Where most 
elections are unopposed or have two candidates at most. You know why, Terrill!)

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